Igniting Innovation: Tips, Sparks and Ideas for Acting on Innovation

3 Simple Things to Look at in Any Patent

Posted by David Lafkas on Apr 5, 2016, 10:00:00 AM

If you are like most people, reading a patent is not an easy task. 

They are filled with technical language, weird attorney speak, experiment data, antiquated black and white line drawings, and then end with a “definition” of the invention that is called a “claim.”

There are about 9,000,000 of these things in the United States alone.  And innovation and patentsthey can be a gold mine of information and stimulus - if you know what to look for. 

Have you ever asked a patent attorney or agent to read a patent?  Even a professional in the field can tell you that they may need a couple of hours to truly understand what is in the document. 

But you don’t want to spend countless hours looking at tons of patent documents.  You want to quickly assess what the patent protects and maybe whether or not it relates to your own innovation.

So, I am going to let you in on 3 speed-reading tricks that the fewer than 45,000 people registered to practice patent law do when reviewing patents:

  1. Read the Title.  I know.  Seems basic, right?  However, this is your first sign to decide whether a patent you are looking at relates to your invention.  Patent titles are meant to be concise and give a general definition of the invention.  So, when doing an Internet search that provides you a list of results, scan the titles for those that seem similar to your invention. 
  2. Look at the Drawings.  This is especially true in the mechanical and electrical fields where a drawing is like the old cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, but I would prefer to look at a drawing for initial comparison to my invention instead of reading a thousand words.  If your invention is a process, similar patents often have a flowchart, so review the supplied flowchart and compare it to your process.
  3. Read the Abstract.  This is a typically a one-paragraph summation of the invention, and is meant to be in simple English, i.e., no geek-speak or legalese.  Here is where you can quickly figure out what makes the invention different.

If you find a patent where those three sections seem on point with your invention, it is time to read the patent from front to back.  I know, NOT something that you are necessarily looking forward to doing, but at least now you have quickly narrowed down to patents that are most of importance to you. 

Next time you need to do some patent searching, try this technique and see how much time (and money) you and your team save.  And then put that time savings into inventing even more cool stuff. 

Topics: innovation, Patents

David Lafkas

Written by David Lafkas

David is Eureka! Ranch’s legal eagle, or more traditionally our patent and trademark authority, not only serving as in-house counsel at Eureka! Ranch, but also evangelizing on the importance of patents in today’s world of innovation to stay ahead of your competition. As an Innovation Engineering Black Belt, David has helped numerous companies develop patentable new products and services. Most recently, he’s supported High Liner Foods in Canada and the US on their comprehensive journey to achieve a culture of innovation as they not only create breakthrough seafood ideas, but also broadly educate employees and implement systems driven innovation across the corporation. David received a biomedical engineering degree from the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology and his juris doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, the 4th oldest law school in the country. He lives in Cincinnati with his rescue dog, Chauncey.

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